Whether you preferred the on-again, off-again saga of Rachel and Ross, the slow burn and emotional depth of Monica and Chandler’s relationship, or the quirkier vibes of Phoebe’s courtships and Joey’s outrageous ways, there was no shortage of romantic story lines on Friends.
Indeed, the romantic intrigue on the beloved sitcom gave us enduring phrases and references that fans still use to describe their own romantic relationships — whether it’s calling someone your “lobster” or arguing over whether you were “on a break.”
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Friends’ premiere on NBC, let’s look back at the show’s most romantic moments and rank them, from the mildly squee-inducing to the ones that make us swoon.
13. Joey confesses to Rachel (“The One Where Joey Tells Rachel,” season 8, episode 16)
The romantic pairing of Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) was one of Friends’ most controversial plotlines, but there were some who got behind the relationship. Whether you loved it or hated it, you can’t deny that Joey’s torch for Rachel led to some of the goofy, womanizing character’s sweetest, most romantic moments on the show (especially in contrast to his early horndog ways). In particular, the moment when, after much angst, he finally tells Rachel he’s falling in love with her really tugs at the heartstrings. It’s so genuine, and the first time Joey’s felt that way about anyone — a fact that even moves Ross (David Schwimmer) to give him his blessing. Rachel doesn’t reciprocate, but their mutual cry-fest and pledge that this won’t change their friendship is perhaps even more heartwarming.
12. Ross almost drinks the fat (“The One Where No One Is Ready,” season 3, episode 2)
This attempt at a grand gesture has achieved something of a mythical status among Friends fans: If you’re dating someone willing to drink the fat, you know they’re a keeper. When Ross snaps at Rachel for not being able to choose an outfit for an important function, she tells him the only thing he can do to make it up to her is drink a glass of chicken fat. Rachel is so moved by Ross’ willingness to do it that she stops him just at the glass reaches his lips and rewards him with a kiss (and later a reveal that she’s going to his event commando). “You were going to drink the fat” will remain an iconic, if somewhat disgusting, testament to the lengths Ross was willing to go to prove his love to Rachel.
11. Chandler agrees to give Monica her dream wedding (“The One With Rachel’s Book,” season 7, episode 2)
When Monica (Courteney Cox) finds out that her parents blew all the money they saved for her wedding on a beach house, she’s devastated to realize she won’t get her dream wedding. That is, until she finds out Chandler (Matthew Perry) has the exact right amount in his savings. He doesn’t want to spend all the money on one party, as he’s been saving for the future, but after realizing how much it means to Monica, he relents — only for her to be so moved by his gesture and his vision of the future that she turns him down and commits to their marriage, not just their wedding. We can’t get over how far these two will go to make each other happy.
10. Phoebe can’t let Mike go (“The One With the Boob Job,” season 9, episode 16)
Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Mike (Paul Rudd) are endgame, but early in their relationship they call it quits when she can’t get over the fact that he never wants to get married again. But Phoebe wonders if she made the right choice and just can’t let Mike go, to the point where Monica feels determined to help her stand strong by hiding all her phones. Except Monica forgets about the speakerphone on the base unit. Imagine missing someone so much that you resort to calling them through a landline speaker phone! (Nowadays it would be practically impossible.) That’s why Mike and Phoebe are a perfect pair. Even when they’re not together, they can’t stay away from one another because they need just one more night. Then Mike goes and makes it even more swoony with a beautiful speech about “If I’d known the last time I kissed you would be the last time, I never would have stopped.” As Monica says, “Kiss him, you fool!”
9. Chandler says, “I love you” (“The One With All the Thanksgivings,” season 5, episode 8)
Chandler and Monica weren’t originally meant to end up together, but their relationship quickly became a fan favorite with its quirky moments of comedy layered over a deep well of chemistry and emotion. That was on excellent display the first time Chandler told Monica he loved her. After upsetting Chandler with the truth about how he lost his toe years ago, Monica tries to make it up to him by showing up at his door and dancing with a raw turkey on her head. Initially, he’s not buying it, but when she starts to shimmy, he blurts out, “You are so great. I love you.” This causes Monica to stop in her tracks and do a slow turn (still wearing the turkey). It’s an encapsulation of what makes their relationship work: the silly mixed with genuine feeling, all underscored by a sense that these two will do anything to support each other.
8. Ross steps up to take Rachel to prom (“The One With the Prom Video,” season 2, episode 14)
Friends managed to keep Rachel and Ross apart for the entire first season before finally clinching things in season 2. But after only one episode, they were at odds again — that is, until Rachel saw an old video of her prom night revealing just how much Ross had always been there for her. On the night of their prom, Rachel’s date hasn’t shown up, and Ross (at the suggestion of his parents) puts on his dad’s tux to step up to take Rachel, only to come downstairs and find she’s gone off with her intended date after all. Upon seeing this old video tape, Rachel immediately forgives Ross and passionately kisses him. This leads Phoebe to proclaim, “See! He’s her lobster,” coining one of the most memorable romantic catchphrases ever uttered on television. (Lobsters mate for life, don’t ya know?) While there were still many ups and downs to come, we love this early look at Ross’s devotion to Rachel — it gives us hope that we might all find our lobster one day.
7. Carol and Susan’s wedding (“The One With the Lesbian Wedding,” season 2, episode 11)
Friends certainly has issues when it comes to LGBTQ representation and how often it used homophobia as a source of humor. “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” is no exception, with Chandler and Joey making gauche cracks about not being able to hit on anyone there. But the episode still brought a rare moment to television screens at the time. In 1996, when this episode aired, same-sex marriage was still not legally recognized in much of the U.S. So it was incredibly meaningful for Ross to support his ex-wife, Carol (Jane Sibbett), when her parents refuse to attend the wedding, encouraging her to go ahead with it and even walking her down the aisle. Though we wish this episode spent more time on Carol and Susan’s (Jessica Hecht) special day rather than using it for humor, we still rank it high on the list of romantic moments for putting it on air and honoring a Friends couple who often got the short end of the stick.
6. Rachel can’t say goodbye to Ross (“The One With Rachel’s Going Away Party,” season 10, episode 16)
The end of Friends brought plenty of tearjerking moments, but perhaps none more so than Rachel’s admission that she couldn’t give Ross a goodbye speech because he means so much more to her than everybody else. After Ross gets increasingly angry with her for granting each of their friends a meaningful goodbye, he rants at her for her apparent snub. Later that night, she comes to his apartment and lets him have it: “I cannot believe after 10 years you do not know one thing about me. It is too damn hard, Ross. I can’t even begin to explain to you how much I am going to miss you. When I think about not seeing you every day, it makes me not want to go.” Ross’s only response to her rant is to kiss her, and the episode ends on them making out. Just when we thought it was all over between them, the pair give us one of the most romantic — and surprising! — goodbyes in television history.
5. Monica and Chandler’s wedding (“The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding,” season 7, episode 24)
Monica and Chandler’s wedding was so momentous it took up two episodes at the end of season 7. The nuptials came with plenty of drama, including Chandler’s cold feet and the revelation that Rachel was pregnant. But at the heart of it all is the love of Monica and Chandler. Joey kicks it off by saying he can’t imagine “two people more perfect for each other,” and he’s right. A fact that is quickly proved by their incredible vows, in which Monica describes turning to a friend for comfort and finding “everything I’d ever been looking for my whole life,” before calling Chandler her “prince, soulmate, and friend.” Chandler delivers in equal measure, saying, “Any surprises that come our way, it’s okay because I will always love you. You are the person I was meant to spend the rest of my life with.” We honestly have cried less at some real weddings.
4. Phoebe and Mike’s wedding (“The One With Phoebe’s Wedding,” season 10, episode 12)
Phoebe and Mike’s happy ending was hard won, with the divorced Mike having to decide he was willing to get married again if it meant he could be with Phoebe. Getting to the wedding itself was no easy feat, with Monica going full wedding-planner-zilla and a blizzard cutting off the photographer and the band. But in the end, it results in a snow-covered winter wedding that looks like something out of a fairy tale, made even more special by little touches like Chandler walking Phoebe down the aisle and the perfectly Phoebe-esque steel drum wedding march. Phoebe gives a beautiful speech about growing up without a normal mom and dad, but how now Mike is her family. Mike’s vows capture the best of Phoebe — her beauty, kindness, generosity, and wonderful weirdness. We’ve never seen Phoebe look happier (or Mike, for that matter), and it’s a beautiful reminder that despite past wounds, snowstorms, and worse, love really can conquer all.
3. Rachel gets off the plane (“The Last One,” season 10, episode 18)
The immortal words “I got off the plane” have become part of the pop culture lexicon since the Friends finale aired 15 years ago — but it’s hard to overstate what a monumentally romantic twist that was at the time. In hindsight, we don’t love that Rachel seemingly gives up her dream job for a relationship that’s been historically rocky, but as romantic gestures go it’s the grandest of them all. It’s the culmination of a decade’s worth of yearning, breakups (not “a break,” mind you), and romantic interludes. Every other major character had found their happy ending, but Ross and Rachel remained the greatest unfinished business of the series. After Ross bought a plane ticket just to tell Rachel how much he loved her, it seemed we might end the series where we started, with Ross pining after an unavailable Rachel. But the writers found a way to surprise us all with a cliffhanger of a voicemail that capitalized on Schwimmer’s comedic timing and a gasp-inducing reveal. Now and forever, “I got off the plane” will be just another way to say “I love you.”
2. Ross and Rachel’s first kiss (“The One Where Ross Finds Out,” season 2, episode 7)
By the time we got to Ross and Rachel’s first kiss, the romantic tension had been building for more than a year. Every time Ross came close to confessing his feelings for Rachel (his high school crush) in season 1, something got in the way. Mostly Italian guys. By the time Rachel figured it out and reciprocated, Ross came back from China with a girlfriend. Finally, in season 2, after overhearing Rachel’s drunken voicemail about being over him, Ross comes to Central Perk to confront Rachel. “You had no right to tell me you ever had feelings for me,” he begins, before picking an epic fight between the two of them. He storms out, which makes Rachel cry, but then we see him standing in the window waiting for her. After struggling to unlock the door, they kiss in the rain. Everything about this moment is romantic perfection. Their erotic-tension-fueled argument is textbook romance novel, and it ends in a steamy kiss in the most romantic of settings: a rain storm. Not to mention how Ross’ forlorn look in the window and Rachel’s sultry glance as she tries to unlock the door romanticize things even further. The scene combines everything that made romance on Friends work: humor, genuine emotion, and a chemistry-fueled clinch. Many people want to visit Central Perk for the couch or the coffee, but let’s be honest, its real highlight is the kissing. Ross and Rachel would have breaks over the years, but nothing was ever as romantic as their first kiss.
1. Monica and Chandler’s proposal (“The One With the Proposal, Part Two,” season 6, episode 25)
We love a lady taking matters into her own hands, and in this case Monica’s attempt at a proposal resulted in the single most romantic moment ever to air in Friends’ 10-year run. After Chandler tries to surprise Monica by pretending he never wants to get married, things go haywire. Joey tells Chandler that Monica has packed her bags and left, but instead he opens the door to find their apartment full of candles and Monica waiting for him. She immediately falls to one knee (yes, girl!) and begins to propose. “I never thought I would be so lucky as to fall in love with my best —” she begins, but she can’t continue through her tears. Honestly, we barely can either. So Chandler joins her on the ground and delivers a proposal for the ages. “I thought that it mattered what I said or where I said it, but then I realized the only thing that matters is that you make me happier than I ever thought I could be,” he pledges. “If you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you feel the same way.” They even get an extra squee-inducing moment with a credits scene that features them slow-dancing in the candlelit apartment to Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”
The main thing we love about Monica and Chandler is what true partners they are and the way they constantly support one another. Their proposal is the truest, most romantic evocation of this — it’s two people proposing to each other on equal terms. Hopeless romantics dream of many scenarios, but finding your happily-ever-after with the person who is your best friend just might be the peak of romantic bliss (see also: When Harry Met Sally). The show is called Friends, and while all of them love each other in their own way, we will never get enough of this tearjerking, utterly romantic, divinely perfect proposal between two best friends. Could it BE any more romantic?